Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660

Critics of the original production of Trouble in Mind found much to praise. Harry Raymond of The Daily Worker wrote, ‘‘Trouble in Mind is a play with an important point of view about the problems of Negro actors in the theatre. She has written about it with a brightness and compassion that sends the audience home with some sound thoughts on one of the major social problems in the field of American culture.’’ The critic of the New York Times agreed with Raymond’s sentiment, arguing that ‘‘Miss Childress has some witty and penetrating things to say about the dearth of roles for Negro actors in the contemporary theatre, the cut-throat competition for these parts, and the fact that Negro actors often find themselves playing stereotyped roles in which they cannot being themselves to believe.’’ Subsequent critics, like Helen Keyssar in her 1984 essay ‘‘Foothills: Precursors of Feminist Drama,’’ take the idea one step further. Keyssar believes that ‘‘While Trouble in Mind is most immediately a black social protest play whose context and inspiration is the racial integration movement of the fifties, it is also a play about roles in which female stereotypes are acknowledged and jarred.’’

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Many critics note that Childress’s female characters, especially Wiletta, are keys to the success of Trouble in Mind. Others found Wiletta and her stand inspiring. Keyssar writes in ‘‘Foothills,’’ that ‘‘Trouble in Mind is unabashed in its evocation of empathy for its protagonist Wiletta Mayer.’’ Gayle Austin, in her essay ‘‘Black Woman Playwright as Feminist Critic,’’ describes the limited views of African-American women on stage, then points out that Childress has created new images for them. She writes, ‘‘Childress, in writing the roles of Wiletta and Millie, has provided some alternative images of black women, three dimensional characters with weaknesses and strengths.’’

Austin believes the characters are still ‘‘fresh’’ today, though other critics have mixed feelings on the subject. Claire Messud of the Times Literary Supplement reviewed a 1992 London production of Trouble in Mind; she writes, ‘‘Trouble in Mind cannot help, in some ways, feeling dated: stereotypes, both black and white, have changed more in the past thirty-five years than in the entire century before that. But, transmogrified, they have not disappeared, and the play is not without resonances and relevance today.’’ Other critics believe Trouble in Mind did transcend time other ways. Sally R. Sommer, writing about the play in a 1979 Village Voice article argues, ‘‘Twenty-three years later we can look at the play and see its double cutting edge: It predicts not...

(The entire section contains 660 words.)

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Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)


Essays and Criticism